Tragedy of the commons

modified 2018-10-11

Tragedy of the commons

In short:

Touches on population control, uses examples of pollution, overfishing, etc. (examples of tragedy of the commons). Reminds me of meditations on moloch.

Results:

Conclusion is that birth rights are the next commons, and that we need to restrict breeding to control the population. Appeals to conscience will only cause humanity to evolve (genetically or memetically) to have less concience as regartds to breeding (since the people who ignore the appear will breed more)!

Highlights:

The population problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality.

the concern here is with the important concept of a class of human problems which can be called “no technical solution problems,” and, more specifically, with the identification and discussion of one of these.

It is easy to show that the class is not a null class. Recall the game of ticktack-toe. Consider the problem, “How can I win. the game of tick-tack-toe?” It is well known that I cannot, if I assume (in keeping with the conventions of game theory) that my opponent understands the game perfectly. Put another way, there is no “technical solution” to the problem. I can win only by giving a radical meaning to the word “win.” I can hit my opponent over the head; or I can drug him; or I can falsify the records. Every way in which I “win” involves, in some sense, an abandonment of the game

My thesis is that the “population problem,” as conventionally conceived, is a member of this class.

it is clear that we will greatly increase human misery if we do not, during the immediate future, assume that the world available to the terrestrial human population is finite.

can Bentham’s goal of “the greatest good for the greatest number” be realized? No-for two reasons, each sufficient by itself. The first is a theoretical one. It is not mathematically possible to maximize for two (or more) variables at the same time.

If our goal is to maximize population it is obvious what we must do: We must make the work calories per person approach as close to zero as possible. No gourmet meals, no vacations, no sports, no music, no literature, no art… . I think that everyone will grant, without argument or proof, that maximizing population does not max2imize goods.

The argument has here been stated in the context of the population problem, but it applies equally well to any instance in which society appeals to an individual exploiting a commons to restrain himself for the general good-by means of his conscience. To make such an appeal is to set up a selective system that works toward the elimination of conscience from the race.

Paul Goodman speaks from the modern point of view when he says: “No good has ever come from feeling guilty, neither intelligence, policy, nor compassion. The guilty do not pay attention to the object but only to themselves, and not even to their own interests, which might make sense, but to their anxieties” (

The only kind of coercion I recommend is mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected.

But we accept compulsory taxes because we recognize that voluntary taxes would favor the conscienceless. We institute and (grumblingly) support taxes and other coercive devices to escape the horror of the commons.

Advertisers muddy the airwaves of radio and television and pollute the view of travelers. We are a long way from outlawing the commons in matters of pleasure. Is this because our Puritan inheritance makes us view pleasure as something of a sin, and pain (that is, the pollution of advertising) as the sign of virtue?

It is the newly proposed infringements that we vigorously oppose; cries of “rights” and “freedom” fill the air. But what does “freedom” mean? When men mutually agreed to pass laws against robbing, mankind became more free, not less so. Individuals locked into the logic of the commons are free only to bring on universal ruin; once they see the necessity of mutual coercion, they become free to pursue other goals.

The most important aspect of necessity that we must now recognize, is the necessity of abandoning the commons in breeding. No technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation. Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all.